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Gedmin: Authoritarian Regimes Employing 'An Army Of People' To Silence Dissent

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin was recently interviewed by James Glassman for his program Ideas In Action, which is broadcast on PBS television affiliates across the U.S.

The episode, "How The Internet Is Changing Dissent", also featured interviews with Freedom House's Christopher Walker, founder David Keyes, in addition to several other prominent writers and activists. Gedmin spoke about RFE/RL's experiences in a number of countries, including Iran, Russia, and Central Asia.

"What's happening to us in Iran is the same thing that's happening to the so-called Green Movement. The government of Iran is pretty good at social media too," Gedmin told Glassman. "They surveil, they infiltrate, they block, they jam...they do everything to rob us and the democrats in the country of that competitive advantage, and they're fairly successful."

Gedmin also described the shrewd strategy of the Russian government in countering political dissent: "I think the strategy of the Russian government is that we'll give people everything they want -- except debate about political freedom. If you're interested in cars, in fashion, in all sorts of consumer goods, you can find and access that, but when it comes to political debate and discussion, the Russians want to pollute the landscape, misinform, or discourage it."

"I think its safe to say that the more severe the authoritarian, the more hostile the reactions," Gedmin said in response to a question about various governments' reactions to RFE/RL. "There are some governments in Central Asia, and Iran in particular, where they're simply hostile and will threaten or arrest people who cooperate or work for us."

"I've met Iranian dissidents in the Middle East who say, 'We no longer know where to go, where the rally takes place,' or they say, 'We were going to go on Thursday, but we saw through friends on a Facebook page that at the square where the rally was going to take place, there were snipers prepositioned on the roofs.' Well guess what, Thursday comes and there are no snipers, and the best guess is that the Iranian secret police put that out, and voila -- they've been able to disband a rally before the protesters even gathered at the square that day."

"If you look globally, the three countries that are most sophisticated [at silencing dissent] are Iran, Russia, and China," said Gedmin. "Those three countries are employing an army of people who are well-trained, who are well-financed, and who are highly motivated in blocking, infiltrating, and surveilling. They're playing the social media game from the other side."